AUN forges great partnership between town, gown

Dr. Ensign... at The Guardian

Dr. Ensign… at The Guardian

EARNING a degree from Yola, Adamawa State-based American University of Nigeria (AUN), is not just about attending classes in 21st century classrooms, on a high-tech university campus. It is not also just about being taught by highly qualified faculty members, drawn from over 40 countries of the world, neither is it only about sharing lecture rooms with students from different parts of the world.

It is about feeling and sharing the pains of the dregs of the society. Importantly, it is about learning to give service and showing compassion, through diverse community services, to those who may never be able to repay.

This, perhaps, explains why the institution, which prides itself as Nigeria’s premier development university and the most technologically intensive university on the African continent, has been striving real hard to justify its moniker.

From the revelations made by its “chief sales person” and president, Dr. Margie Ensign, while on a courtesy visit to Rutam House, corporate home of The Guardian, the average seeker of tertiary education is tempted to begin to compute, what he/she is missing, even without setting foot on the campus.

During the visit, Ensign did not only stress the need for Nigerian varsities to contribute their quota to greatly impact their communities, she also reeled out what her school has achieved along this line in the recent past, especially working with Internally Displace Persons (IDP’s) given rise by Boko Haram insurgency.

Expectedly, the school’s non-academic resume speaks for itself, as despite dire security and humanitarian challenges in the North East, it has impacted the poor in its host community in ways that older varsities would find it difficult to comprehend.

Specifically, the institution has deployed tones of its own resources to providing scholarships, free Information and Communication Technology (ICT) education to vulnerable groups and in bringing peace to terror infested communities within and beyond its precinct.

For instance, in the last one year, the school has launched the #EducateOurGirls campaign. This happened in Washington, United States, on September 4, 2014.

It also awarded full Scholarship to 21 of the Chibok schoolgirls who escaped from Boko Haram; provided food and humanitarian assistance to over 400,000 IDPs who fled the insurgency in North East; educated IDPs children, trained over 400 Adamawa youths in free ICT classes, and organised free Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) and West Africa Examination Council (WAEC)/ National Examination Council (NECO) classes for hundreds of candidates as a practical response to the high incidence of examination failures in Nigeria.

Earlier this month, AUN/ Adamawa Peace Initiative (API) launched a N1bn Insurgency Appeal Fund that would provide housing, food, education, drinking water, farming support, and healthcare to thousands of displaced persons in its host state. Here, the school is collaborating with an investment firm, Afrinvest West Africa, to raise the money.

All these not withstanding, Ensign who has been on her present job for five years now, where she is leading AUN towards the realisation of a lofty academic concept, (while offering global-standard education), is unrelenting in championing issues that bother on development and restoring peace in the area, improving the lot of displaced women and children, as well as preaching the importance of education.

“There is need for the Federal Government to rebuild five bridges blown up by members of the Boko Haram sect in Bazza, Michika, Hong and Maiha, all in Adamawa State.” This is because the destruction of the bridges, she stressed, has negatively affected the socio-economic wellbeing of the people of the state.

“The state has been impacted by the Boko Haram crisis and since May 2013, we have been in a state of emergency. Internally Displaced People, including thousands of youths, have moved to the state from Borno and Yobe to escape the violence, she stated.

On how to get the students to see things through the school’s prism, and buy into its developmental drive for the benefit of the larger Nigerian society, Ensign said, “Every AUN student is required to work on one of our community development projects, and that has changed them fundamentally and how they see the world.”

She continued, “I sincerely think AUN is proffering some interesting solutions to some Nigerian problems using technology, and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), just gave me some additional money to expand and follow through some of these interesting things that we are doing in our host community including the mobile education we are giving to those communities, who lost their school buildings.

“The Adamawa Peace Initiative (API), which has all the Christian and Muslim leaders, as well as all other major actors started three years ago and we are firmly entrenched and working with each other before this thing got bad.

On how the initiative was working, she said, “members of API would identify for the university, vulnerable youths (children without parents and without education). If they didn’t have much education, we put them in Peace Through Sports. We now have 200 teams and we do a peace curriculum, and we are beginning to do literacy with an initiative, “Feed and Read,” as well as expose them to ICT, entrepreneurship and thereafter try to find them employment. Before the insurgency got bad, we had already trained 15, 000 kids, because we are everywhere in the community. And this is the reason that the API members can say and have documented that not one of the youths joined Boko Haram. So, may be we have a model that should be followed because once ISIS and a group like that starts, it is very hard to stop them. Maybe we can prevent that from happening here.

“We also have the Waste to Wealth Programme, where we have now trained over 120 women in the community to pick up discarded plastic bags, which are washed and woven into beautiful products. These women can now pay for their children’s school fees and have some left to buy more food. It is a wonderful project, and Exxonmobil heard about this programme about eight months ago and gave us a little grant. They have said they were going to fund us more and we are excited about it. Now we have started another programme called, “Rags to Riches.” In this programme remainders from tailoring are also being trimmed by these women into something worthwhile. It is a small thing, but it is really impacting their lives.

“In addition to this, every AUN student has to work on one of our projects including teaching in schools. And at the end of this particular course, instead of taking an examination, they write a book to be used by the pupils. So, it should be a pride to Nigeria that AUN is here, and in the poorest part of your country, and on purpose. We can create the Silicon Valley of Nigeria. People laugh when we say that, but it is beginning to happen as our students are writing apps for our literacy programmes, and there is a great deal of innovation going on out there. One of our computer science students, and his father, who is the local Imam have written educational apps in Hausa and Fufulde languages. These are some of the programmes that have said to youths of Yola, ‘We are here for you and are going to do everything we can to get you involved, and to get you educated.’

Ten years after coming on board, AUN now has room for pupils as young as three months old. “Now, we begin with pupils as young as three months in our Pre-K and we are equipped to take them to PhD level. That means we have gotten a lot bigger. We use our own funds and funds we raised to give up to 18 per cent of our students scholarship. We just completed our scholarship examination in each of the geo-political zones because we want the best and the brightest from all corners of the country, even if they don’t have money. All they needed was to score a certain number of marks and they are in,” the academic stated.

She continued, “With the coming semester, we have doubled our admission figures and this is really a wonderful story for us because it shows that we have come out of this challenging times. Now, we have more international students and American students are coming to Nigeria because the cost of higher education in the United States right now is exorbitant. The university I came from is now $50, 000 a year. No one should have to pay that. Now, we have got some American parents, who have reached out to us asking if their kids could come to Nigeria to school. Yes of course, we told them.

“At the moment, we have got students on full scholarship from South Africa, Rwanda and Uganda. Our vision is to be the continent’s university where all these future leaders used to be in school together. And now we have the Americans coming, and I think that is wonderful,” she enthused.

“As an institution, our mission right from the outset has always been to be a development university, and we make our students to understand the challenges of development and we get them prepared to solve these challenges. After their first 18 months on campus, they know first hand what the problems are and they are participating in solving them hence their participation in the feeding of 276, 000 displaced people a week. It took eight hours to feed this number. This shows that already they are being part of the solution and this is very important. A good number of these are Almajiri kids, who are participating in the “Feed and Read” programme.

The school’s president, who said that the school has “strong ties with America and the American Association of International Colleges and Universities (AAICU), (which it holds its vice presidency as well as being the only member of the body in sub- Saharan Africa), added that, “The American Libraries Association (ALA) recently said that we have one of the three best e-libraries in the world.

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